Why GLBT Suffering is Not All Due to DiscriminationPosted: December 16, 2012
Time and again the public is told of how gay people are suffering, in terms of poor health, depression and suicide, and the finger is usually pointed at anti-gay discrimination as the cause. And statistics do confirm that homosexuals do suffer discrimination in some areas, and did face significant backlash in the early days of the AIDS virus, and they do often (but not always) have poorer mental health than average. Often it is said that religion fuels this, but it’s interesting to note that the culture within the scientific community, where an atheistic tone prevails, homosexuality has still been described as taboo. It’s likewise been taboo in cultures where Christianity has not dominated, eg in China. However, to claim that the cause of poor mental health is simply discrimination, is an oversimplification.
Unfortunately sometimes human beings sometimes experience depression, whether they are gay or straight, and this is true of GLBT people whether they live in the more GLBTQ-affirming cultures or not. The experience of people such as EricJames Borges, who eventually became very involved in a GLBTQ*-affirming environment, yet still committed suicide, suggests that reasons for suicide are multifaceted, and raises the question of whether homosexuality involves an inherent disfunction. The same may be said from the experiences of Doug Mainwaring, who said he felt depressed about his homosexuality even when he wasnt out – suggesting that in cases like his, discrimination isnt the primary cause. It’s also notable, that countries that in some ways have less discrimination against gays, have higher rates of STDs amongst gays.
Dr Delaney Skerrett, a researcher in a 2014 study on GLBTI suicide, has said “We tend to assume that the psychological distress LGBTI people are often going through is due to family rejection. But it seems that’s not so much the case”. He says “The conflict seems to be largely related to relationship problems, with partners.” It’s often said that the legal option to marry is helpful to the mental health of gays and lesbians. And (limited) data from Denmark seems to indicate that this it true for gay men, but the findings have also found that men in gay marriages still have higher mortality rates than men in heterosexual relationships or who have never married, and it has found that women in lesbian marriages were six times more likely to commit suicide than women in normal marriages. Similar findings have been made for Sweden. In Canada, where gay marriage was legalised in 2005, homosexual lobbyists in 2009 still cited drug and alcohol abuse as several times higher amongst gays compared with straights. Some have claimed that homosexuals are the last group for which it is socially acceptable to marginalise. But others have countered that as a fat person they have experienced more open, frequent and persistent negative responses. Some experts have stated that bullying rarely leads to suicide. And one large study comparing adults in the UK, the researchers found no increase in bullying of gay men compared to heterosexual men.
According to a 2016 study by Mayer& McHugh, the prevailing explanation in the scientific literature for poor mental health in the GLBT communities –
… is the social stress model, which posits that social stressors — such as stigmatization and discrimination — faced by members of these subpopulations account for the disparity in mental health outcomes. Studies show that while social stressors do contribute to the increased risk of poor mental health outcomes for these populations, they likely do not account for the entire disparity.
… a 2003 longitudinal study105 of Norwegian adolescents by psychologist Lars Wichstrøm and colleague found that sexual orientation was associated with poor mental health status after accounting for a variety of psychological risk factors, including self-worth. While this study did not directly consider stigma as a risk factor, it suggests that psychological factors such as stigma consciousness alone likely cannot fully account for the disparities in mental health between heterosexuals
Those poor mental health outcomes may be mitigated to some extent by reducing social stressors, but this strategy is unlikely to eliminate all of the disparities in mental health status between sexual minorities and the wider population.
Discrimination can have a negative effect on GLBT people, and in some cases there is a direct link between this cause and accompanying depression. But discrimination is not the only cause. Other causes of depression may include …
Being poorer. Research by Gallup that was released in December, identified that LGBT Americans tend to have lower levels of education and income. Im not saying you need to be rich to be happy, but I am saying that Americans who are poorer tend to be less happy. Gay activists will respond to this by claiming that discrimination has restricted GLBT individuals in advancing in education and employment. But what Ive said above applies here too. Is discrimination the only cause or even the primary cause? Is a party lifestyle and/or a lack of discipline a factor?
- Hedonistic tendencies. Not all gays and lesbians are hedonistic, and it’s not just gays and lesbians that are hedonistic. But as a community group, gays and lesbians do engage in partying and drug consumption on a higher scale than most others. Along with this comes unsafe sex practices, which sometimes lead to bodily death on a large scale. A small yet saddeningly large proportion are comfortable lying to their sex partners about the HIV status too. This is a relevant consideration in times when people decry that preaching the Bible can lead to depression that nets a result that “people are dying!”
Also relevant is this study, which found that homosexual sex was a greater indicator of suicide risk, than homosexual identification.
- Rejection of each other. Some have said that in gay culture, unless you are young and good looking, you dont feel like you really belong. This article and in gay magazine The Advocate, indicates that it’s not uncommon for gay males to reject and express disapproval of other gay males and this op-ed from the same publication asks whether gay males are their own worst enemy. Many others have reported similarly (EG2, EG3, EG4, EG5, EG6, EG7, EG8, EG9, EG10, EG11) including amongst the lesbian community. One lesbian wrote “I personally have experienced a lot of ill-will due to my gender presentation (as in, I am female by birth and have long hair and wear make-up, heels and skirts on occasion, and I am treated like a traitor because of it, and people have even gone so far as to claim I’m “not really lesbian”).” One of the most classic cases of anti-gay hate is supposedly the murder of Matthew Shepherd in 1998, but it’s been claimed (EG2) even in the GLBT media that his murderer may have been a sexual partner of Shepherd.
- Difficulty maintaining monogamous relationships (Ref. 2) even if ‘married’. Even gay people have inferred this non-commitment is juvenile and not something to be proud of.
- Cognitive dissonance in regards to whether homosexuality is a disfunction. Many will claim that it is not, yet can feel offended if confronted with the reality that gay couples cant reproduce or that gay men are often effeminate and that gay women often have masculine tendencies.
- Superficiality. In the world of gay males, looking attractive is a top priority. Steroid use has been found to be higher in young gay and bisexual men than others. So if a gay male looses his good looks, eg from the natural aging process, his sense of self-worth may also decrease. This was perhaps illustrated by the suicide of 49 year old gay self-help guru Bob Bergeron in 2012. Some gay men are known to say things like “gay life is over after age 40.”
- Greater levels of dissatisfaction with their own body
- Impacts of HIV and higher rates of cancer for both gay men and lesbians, such as financial stress, isolation, depression, side effects of mediation and general poor health. Other impacts include the emotional response to being on the loosing team in an ongoing war with nature, as HIV infection rates continue to grow amongst gay men, even in the West. Some dismiss the higher STI rates in the gay community, by claiming that the solution is simply a matter of practising safer sex. But even popular gay sources state that consistent practise of “safer sex” very much remains an unattained goal for the gay community.
Interestingly, a 2013 study reported of indications that the proportions of gay men seem to be similar across the various US states. This raises the question of why gay men dont chose to relocate, if they live in a state that is more discriminatory that others.
This post is not to imply that all homsexuals are depressed – just that there is a higher incidence than for heterosexuals. But with all the above issues being potential contributing factors to depression, if discrimination is the primary factor, could someone please point to some robust proof?